How long can you resist a marshmallow? For a minute, maybe two - How about 20 minutes? Believe it or not, the answer to that simple question, could shape your entire future - At least that, is the conclusion reached by University of Stanford scientist Walter Mischel the brainchild behind the now legendary 'Stanford Marshmallow' test.
The unusual experiment was conducted by the psychologist between 1968-1970. Children between the ages of 4-6 were invited individually and seated at a table inside a room that had a single marshmallow (or even cookie or pretzel if that is what they preferred) on a plate. They were told that if they could resist the treat for 20 minutes, they would be rewarded with another. Those that that were unable to wait, simply had to ring a bell that lay in front of them before devouring it. They would however receive no additional treats. The scientist would then sneak out and watch the kid's behavior from a one-way mirror.
What they observed was that only about a third of the kids were able to wait out the 20 minutes and that the older the child was, the better his/her resistance power. However, what was even more interesting is that most, no matter how young, did wait it out at least for a little while. Very few, gobbled the marshmallow right away.
That of course, was just the beginning of the study that has been ongoing since. Many years later, the scientist followed up with the parents of the now-grown kids with a detailed questionnaire. What he found was that those that had been able to resist the marshmallow for the full 20 minutes, were thought to be more competent by their parents, than the others. Things got even more interesting a few years later, when he discovered that the marshmallow resisters all scored an average of 210 points higher on their Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) scores than the rest of the group. Not only that, they were also better at planning and, handling stress.
Recently, Tanya Schlam at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health along with some of her colleagues decided to contact the same group for a totally different purpose - To see whether the self-control had continued into adulthood and therefore helped them maintain a healthy weight. Sure enough, they found it was directly related to the minutes they were able to hold off eating the marshmallows. Who knew that scoffing down a marshmallow when you were just four could affect your entire life!
Resources: Telegraph.co.uk, nydailynews.com, slate.com